Foreign-policy choice: agendas missing

For any administration three alternative styles present themselves in foreign policy: posture, organization, and program. One is tempted to admit that any foreign policy mixes all three. Yet there is the important matter of emphasis. What the American public is witnessing in the 1984 campaign is a fight between a Reagan foreign policy that has emphasized posture and a Mondale approach that sees foreign policy as governed by organizational and personnel considerations. What eludes us in this campaign is substance: Neither candidate seems to have interesting programs for future American foreign policy. Largely absent are even those vague calls for ''new priorities'' heard in the recent past.

Reagan and posture: During the 1980 campaign candidate Reagan's idea of good foreign policy was apparent: the US suffered from a deficiency of external image , the consequence of inadequate military muscle, which hampered us in forceful dealings with the USSR. On taking office, President Reagan pushed for posture over organization and program, with substantially raised profiles for visible aspects of foreign policy in the fields of defense and rhetoric. ''Public diplomacy'' became paramount and urgent.

The organizational and programmatic aspects of Reagan foreign policy were deliberately subordinated to public display. The National Security Council system was decentralized and the President's national security adviser converted - at best - from White House leader to a coordinator between contending bureaucracies at State, Defense, and the CIA. Meanwhile, the best-articulated bipartisan programs in foreign policy during the first Reagan term found expression in the reports of the Kissinger and Scowcroft commissions, the one on Central America and the other on the MX missile; Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft belonged to the Nixon and Ford years when carefully argued programs were considered essential for effective international policy.

During the 1984 election period the Reagan approach to foreign policy has not changed from his campaign against Jimmy Carter: In a second Reagan administration we may expect more of the same accent on posture and external appearance that we have seen in the first. Any deviation from this approach will probably come from individuals who have a more programmatic view of foreign policy, such as Secretary of State George P. Shultz, and not from any major shift in emphasis toward a centrally governed National Security Council headed by a leading student of foreign policy.

The most important consideration in Reagan foreign policy: the appearance of strength. And losses must be cut where this fails, as in Lebanon.

The emphasis on posture makes future Reagan foreign-policy programs uncertain: In a possible second Reagan term we can predict what the US posture will be, but we can scarcely guess, from the 1984 campaign, what the program will look like. Will Reagan be more ideological or pragmatic, for instance, in his policies toward the Soviet Union? This question is still unanswered in substantive terms despite the Reagan-Gromyko Washington meeting of Sept. 28, although we might hazard a guess that the appearance of Reagan's Soviet policy will be more pragmatic.

Mondale and process: On the Mondale side of the campaign ledger, the 1984 accent has scarcely changed since the Carter administration, when the process and organization of foreign policy seemed to consume great attention. What made the Carter foreign policy so interesting and perplexing was its view that somehow the substance of policy comes from the internal dynamics of the National Security Council system and that presidential guidance about broad objectives emerges from so-called ''bureaucratic politics'' and the close connection of this politics to the Byzantine ways of Washington. At times this view made the actual application of policy to other countries difficult or impossible.

In the final days of the 1984 campaign the Mondale appeal has relied on questions of ''who's in charge?'' and on general presidential competence as ''commander-in-chief.'' Mondale referred in the Oct. 21 debate to Reagan's arms control and Lebanon policies - with heavy accent on bureaucratic infighting. And he and Reagan jousted over what organizational levels were responsible for the CIA handbook on terror in Nicaragua.

Should Mondale be elected, his foreign policy would early become absorbed with issues of internal process and organization. It might be argued in his new administration that, in reforming organizational structures and guidelines, policies will necessarily improve. Mondale could appoint a strong national security adviser and reconstitute a centralized National Security Council system with some modifications of previous practices; he could rebuild a lively ''back channel'' with the Kremlin; he might consider proposals to reorganize the defense establishment, giving more central power to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; he would probably realign our nuclear posture to place greater reliance on second-strike offensive weapons; and he might reexamine NATO's strategy and organization to emphasize conventional forces. His foreign policy in this campaign, like Reagan's, has failed to address the future.

The missing ingredient - the future: What is missing in this campaign is the centrally important matter of program - i.e., plans of action. It is surely difficult for the public to judge foreign policy simply on the basis of appearances and apocrypha, although this seems largely the state of public understanding today.

Who has proposed interesting agendas for areas of deteriorating US foreign policy, except in the vaguest and most polemical terms? While no one expects the President to admit such deterioration, has he no unfinished foreign policy business for his second term beyond general hopes for a world without nuclear weapons? Has Mondale suggested what his being a strong commander-in-chief would mean for a change in our foreign policy, since this role is usually associated with the war powers of the presidency? Has there been a major speech by either candidate on a broad foreign policy agenda - in our relations with the Soviet Union, our allies, and the developing world?

What has been denied the electorate this year might at least be corrected in 1985: No matter who wins the presidency, there should be a thorough public discussion, led by the White House and State Department, on a substantive foreign policy agenda in key areas of US foreign relations. Our foreign policy seems either inflexible or insubstantial and, therefore, remains at the mercy of international crisis and internal dissension.

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